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Rapert seeks session on teacher insurance

The chairman of a Senate committee Monday called for a special legislative session to address skyrocketing teacher insurance premiums.

“This plan, if it continues as they’ve been doing, it’s in the proverbial death spiral,” Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, told reporters during a break in a meeting of four legislative committees discussing the problem. “It’s going to continue to get worse, it’s going to require a lot of money.”

Gov. Mike Beebe’s spokesman said the governor does not want to call a special session until is an immediate need and an agreed upon solution.

Rapert scheduled Monday’s meeting of the Senate and House education committees and insurance and commerce committees last month after officials learned that health insurance premiums for teachers and other school personnel would go up as much as 50 percent, depending on which plan they choose.

“When you look at teachers that are telling me that 44 percent of their income is going to pay their insurance premiums, I think waiting to January is not an option,” Rapert told reporters Monday.

The Legislature’s regular fiscal session is scheduled to convene Feb. 10.

Bob Alexander, director of the state employee benefits division, and Doug Shackelford, deputy director, told lawmakers Monday that the new insurance rates are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 and that it would take $53 million in new money to avoid the projected increases and keep premium rates at current levels next year.

The Legislature this year allocated $8 million in end-of-the-year General Improvement Funds to help prop up the teacher health insurance benefits program after learning that the fund had been depleted in 2010 because of a number of catastrophic claims.

Alexander and Shackelford told lawmakers Monday that the employee benefits board first learned of the possibility of a massive rate hike in June, just weeks after the legislative session ended. The board voted in August to raise the rates.

A short term fix, Rapert suggested, would be using $53 million of the nearly $300 million government surplus to help keep teacher insurance rates at their current levels while lawmakers work to develop a long-term solution.

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